Category Archive: Times of Israel

Cheering Israel’s 70th, descendants of Nazis march in Jerusalem

Surrounded by pro-Israel Christian supporters from 40 countries, grandchildren of Waffen SS members seek ‘healing’ in Israel’s capital

Thousands of Christians march at March of the Nations 2018 event in center of Jerusalem, May 15, 2018. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

They came from over 40 countries — from Australia to Burundi, China to South Africa, the United States to Germany — to celebrate Israel’s 70th birthday, filling the streets of Jerusalem on Tuesday with a sea of billowing flags, ecstatic chants of “Israel, Israel” and heartfelt, if often bungled, Hebrew lyrics.

At the March of Nations’ starting point in Sacher Park, a pair of beaming Poles proudly sported Star of David crowns, blue-and-white balloons strong-armed into the shape. Across the grassy expanse, an effusive Hasid was on a rock, welcoming the 2,000-odd international marchers to the city. And on the steep incline of Bezalel Street, hugging the capital’s trendy Nachlaot neighborhood, a middle-aged German violinist in a flat cap was serenading an Israeli baby in the arms of a woman in loose-fitting clothing on the sidelines.

Minutes later, the exuberant crowds filed past a barbershop in downtown Jerusalem, where an Israeli woman paused mid-haircut — her grey hair plastered to her face — to snake a smartphone through her cape and snap a photo through the glass. Past Hillel Street, a lanky Spaniard carrying a shofar high-fived an Israeli over his country’s soccer prowess, as several American nuns forged ahead behind a gray-bearded man with an eye patch and binoculars.

Nearby, a handful of IDF soldiers were showered with attention by the marchers.

But while visually reminiscent of the annual international pro-Israel march on the Sukkot festival, Tuesday’s March of the Nations had an under-the-radar twist missed by most casual Israeli observers.

“My grandfather went to Auschwitz and helped build the concentration camp. He was responsible for putting 16 kilometers of barbed wire into place and he also helped build the gas chambers,” Bärbel Pfeiffer, flanked by her husband and children, told the crowd in German before the march.

“And we are standing here today as a whole family to say that something like this must never happen again. And Israel, we stand by your side and we love you, Israel, and we will be with you.”

Organized by the March of Life organization of descendants of Nazi Waffen SS members, the event came at the end of a three-day conference centered on Holocaust commemoration, including talks with survivors. The march featured a large German contingent, though the bulk of the participants from around the world had no direct familial connection to the war and came simply as Christian supporters of Israel. It was the organization’s first Jerusalem event, but not the first in Israel, having previously held a walk on the Burma Road, a spokesperson said.

The March of the Nations was embraced by many Israeli leaders, including President Reuven Rivlin, numerous lawmakers, Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat, and Likud minister Ayoub Kara, who welcomed the Israel support, the strong opposition to anti-Semitism, and the soul-searching by the descendants of the Nazi Wehrmacht.

Still basking in the afterglow of Jerusalem Day celebrations on Sunday and the US embassy relocation on Monday, elated Jerusalemites were cheering on the marchers from the sidewalk and from balconies, while teenagers and children eagerly hoarded flag souvenirs.

Few of the Israeli observers, however, appeared to be informed of the Nazi descendants’ connection to the event, with all of those approached by The Times of Israel offering a nearly identical head jerk and an open-mouthed “what?”

“That’s a crazy shock,” said one discomfited resident who asked to be identified only as Rafael. “That’s a crazy shock.”

A woman who identified herself only as Maayan, whose grandfather survived Auschwitz and grandmother Theresienstadt, had come downstairs from her Bezalel Street apartment with her two toddlers and a baby strapped to her chest to watch the festivities.

“On one hand, I really appreciate it that they’ve come, but on the other, I also feel bad for them. I wouldn’t want to take responsibility for things my grandparents had done,” she said.

While stressing there could be “no atonement” for the Holocaust’s atrocities, she added: “The question is how they educate their children. If they raise their children with tolerance… against racism, and with love of mankind – this is the real thing. To apologize to me that my grandfather has no family is not relevant.  [The recognition] that [the Holocaust] is shocking, and that they don’t deny it and remember – it’s nice.”

A Nazi propagandist and his great-granddaughter

Carmen Shamsianpur, 34, the press coordinator of the March of Nations, was first encouraged to explore her roots by a local pastor in her German hometown in 2007.  Turning to their older relatives for answers, the several hundred members of her church, herself included, had a “moment of relief” when they were told by family members that none had direct ties to SS military activity, she said. And then they realized, “the whole church, maybe 400 people, and no Nazis among the ancestors – it can’t be.”

“So we started research in archives,” she told The Times of Israel at the start of the march, white Star of David earrings dangling from her ears. Ultimately, everyone found at least one family member who was complicit in the mass murder, she said.

By 2012, she discovered one of her great-grandfathers had lived an hour away from Auschwitz, was “a real Nazi” who worked on the railways, and was directly involved in loading up trains of Jews bound for the death camp.

“We went there, where he lived, in Bytom – it’s Poland now, was Germany then,” she said. “We were looking for someone, there were 2,000 Jews in the city, now there are only six or seven left. We got to know the oldest one of them, who is not alive anymore, but he lived exactly in the same flat where our great-grandfather lived and we went there to see him and tell him who we are, and that we are really sorry for what happened, and want to be friends.”

Just a year and a half ago, after 10 years of research, she uncovered information on another great-grandfather — a prominent Nazi “propagandist leader.”

Shamsianpur, who is also a journalist, said she pursued her field before knowing anything about her great-grandfather. “But it’s a heritage, it’s a love for language that I have, and so on,” she said.

“But he used it for bad and I have the grace to use it for good and for the good of Israel and the Jewish people — which I love.”

Also at the march was Oliver Butz, a civil engineer from Germany, who said he came for “healing” and a “release of the pressure I had.”

“I can talk to people here. And I can’t talk to them in Germany,” said Butz, whose paternal grandfather was a Nazi stationed in northern Africa. His other grandfather, who he said was young when the war ended, died six years ago. “He denied the Holocaust until he died. And still my parents never did talk about the Holocaust,” he said.

“My family, still today they don’t want to talk about it. They just refuse and they argue and say it’s all gone, it was all in the past, so why [are you] bothering about the past,” he said. Giving an example of the singing of racist songs, Butz added: “And the Holocaust is still in my family, I can say that.”

The parade ended across from Mount Zion, at the Sultan’s Pool arena, where the march-goers were met with concerts by Jewish and Christian singers, somber dance performances to the Schindler’s List theme song, and Yiddish lullabies accompanied by a slideshow of Jewish Holocaust victims. It was a Rorschach test for the Jews in the crowd: between an uncomfortable spectacle flirting with cultural appropriation, and a moving testament to the past 70 years, the sweeping tides of history and the miraculous transformation of Jewish fate.

Five singers, all descendants of Nazis, took the stage.

Im eshkaheh Yerushalayim (If I forget thee, O Jerusalem),” they crooned in the dark shadow of the Old City’s walls.


Why a gory Holocaust film is a blockbuster in Russia

A movie about the Sobibor uprising led by a Soviet Red Army Jewish officer has made a huge splash thanks to a government-led commemoration campaign that culminated this year

Christopher Lambert, right, portraying a German Nazi officer in ‘Sobibor.’ (Courtesy of Rosiya Segondiya/ via JTA)

JTA — A decade ago, relatively few people in Russia even knew about the existence of Sobibor, the smallest-scale facility of the six killing centers that the Nazis built in occupied Poland.

This relative obscurity persisted for decades in Russia, Israel and beyond despite the fact that the camp is tied to a dramatic story of heroism: In 1943, Russian inmates led a successful escape, one of only two such occurrences during the Holocaust (the other happened that same year in Treblinka).

Following the Sobibor uprising, however, the Nazis razed the camp so that little more than a forest clearing remained in the remote area where SS guards and Ukrainians murdered 250,000 Jews. This is why Sobibor receives a fraction of the visitor traffic observed at the Auschwitz or Majdanek camps, whose gas chambers and other structures remained intact and were turned into museum exhibits.

Ten years on, though, Sobibor has made a huge splash in Russia thanks to a government-led commemoration campaign that culminated this year, the uprising’s 75th anniversary, with last week’s commercial release of Russia’s largest-ever Holocaust movie production.

Featured prominently in national media, the war drama “Sobibor” is a box-office hit with $2 million in ticket sales — an unprecedented success for its genre in Russia, especially for a movie unsuitable for children.

The two-hour Russian-language film — a multi-million dollar production with state funding — features Konstantin Khabenskiy, one of Russia’s best-known actors. It has an international cast and convincing visuals but its main significance is that it goes into finer detail and nuance than any feature film made before about the camp, according to Michael Edelstein, a lecturer at Moscow State University and the film’s scientific consultant.

Visually, the film is one of the goriest of its kind. Its opening scene features the death throes of hundreds of naked women in a gas chamber. There’s a rape scene, immolation, savage beatings, floggings, stabbings, a bludgeoning to the head and firearm executions.

“It’s a very difficult film to watch,” Rabbi Alexander Boroda, president of the Federation of Jewish Communities of Russia, told JTA.

The film also goes further than any previous production — including the 1987 British television film “Escape from Sobibor” staring Alan Arkin — in exploring the internal politics within the camp. In the days before the uprising, its conspirators suffered violence and feared betrayal by other inmates — including kapo, Jews who worked for the Nazis as camp police.

Whereas the 1987 film ignores this issue, it is ever-present in the Russian production, informing at every step the viewer’s interpretation of the actions and dilemmas of the film’s main protagonist, the partisan and Red Army veteran Alexander Pechersky, who led the revolt and whose character is played by Khabenskiy.

The film even features one scene of a kapo practicing the Nazi salute – a reference to Herbert Naftaniel, a German Jew nicknamed Berliner. According to testimonies from Sobibor, Naftaniel was crueler to inmates than the German and Ukrainian guards. It also shows the hostility harbored by some Russian Jewish soldiers toward other Jews, whom they call “kikes” in the film.

Under Pechersky, a dozen-odd men and a few women eliminated the Nazi chain of command by stealthily assassinating several camp officers, who were lured into a trap with promises of exquisite possessions taken from victims. With weapons they stole, the rebels then engaged the watchtower guards as more than 300 people exited through the main gate. Only 57 escapees, including Pechersky, avoided being murdered in the subsequent manhunt.

Eleven German officers were killed in the uprising.

But while these acts of bravery at Sobibor highlight the rebels’ resourcefulness and determination, they and the movie also underscore how Jews’ relative obedience at Sobibor created total complacency among the Nazis — who were famously vigilant, disciplined and effective in countering threats by enemies, partisans and even prisoners of war.

“A body has two hands, and so does this story,” said Edelstein. “On the one hand, there was the dehumanization and mechanized killing. On the other, the heroism. And I think Sobibor is remembered for the heroism thanks to the rebels’ actions.”

The film also addresses perceived passivity, exploring the grinding effect of hard labor, hunger and trauma as well as the elaborate deception employed by the Nazis to trick the condemned into submissively entering the gas chambers, which the killers said were showers. Victims’ suitcases were tagged and they received slips to recover them. Separation between the sexes was “temporary,” they were told.

Pechersky, a Red Army prisoner of war who was transferred to Sobibor because he was Jewish, realized within a few days that no one was meant to survive the camp, he said in testimonies. But others wholeheartedly believed they were about to be resettled.

Illustrative: A metal plate bearing the name of 13-year-old Annie Kapper from Amsterdam was found at the Sobibor death camp in eastern Poland in 2013. (Courtesy of Yoram Haimi/JTA)

Some of the most poignant findings from Sobibor were discovered last year: name plaques that five Dutch-Jewish families had brought with them to Sobibor to install on their new mailboxes.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu referenced Sobibor’s dual legacy for Jews during a speech in January that he gave in a joint appearance Russian President Vladimir Putin at a commemoration ceremony for the Sobibor Uprising at Moscow’s Jewish Museum and Tolerance Center.

“There were those who thought that [Sobibor] was our history’s rock bottom, when in fact it marked the opposite: Our will to never surrender to those who want to destroy us,” Netanyahu said. “That moment more than any other marked the turning point in the history of the Jewish people.”

But this modern view was not universally shared in Israel in the years immediately after the Holocaust. In celebrating Holocaust-era bravery, authorities highlighted the Warsaw Ghetto uprising and other cases that did not carry Sobibor’s complex mixture of heroism, passivity and treachery.

Russian President Vladimir Putin, center, with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, right, at a wreath laying ceremony at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Moscow, May 9, 2018. (Amos Ben Gershom/GPO/Flash90/via JTA)

For decades, “the Sobibor Uprising was barely known in Israel,” according to Yoram Haimi, the Israeli archeologist who in recent years unearthed parts of the gas chamber at the camp. The only commemoration it had was when survivors’ families gathered each year on the uprising’s anniversary at the home of Dov Freiberg for a dinner party that featured neither speeches nor ceremonies, he said.

Meanwhile, the Sobibor Uprising did not meet the Soviet Union’s standards for heroism either, according to Edelstein, the film’s scientific consultant.

“Pechersky couldn’t be celebrated as a hero not only because he was a Jew, but also because he let himself be taken prisoner. Celebrating him was out of the question” during communism, Edelstein said.

But that changed in Russia following Haimi’s archeological excavations, which drew intense interest in international media.

The process that led to the film’s creation began with a visit to Israel in 2012, Edelstein said. Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein, who is Michael’s brother, proposed the two countries cooperate on commemorating the 75th anniversary of the uprising.

Russian authorities have since facilitated the establishment in Moscow of a foundation devoted to commemorating and researching the uprising. They also bestowed posthumous honors on uprising leaders and invited descendants of the Sobibor uprising leaders to official events in Moscow – including the annual May 9 military parade celebrating Nazi Germany’s defeat. Schools have been named for Pechersky in Russia and monuments built in his honor for the first time in decades.

Haimi, the archeologist, describes this as a cynical “appropriation” by Russian authorities of the story.

Pechersky, who died in 1990, was “never recognized by the Russians. Only now they reinvent this story, make it their own and recast him as some Red Army hero,” Haimi said. “He did what he did as a Jew trying to survive, not for Mother Russia.”

The film does carry some nationalistic Russian references, including one in which Pechersky is said to have “Stalin in his heart.”

But for a state-funded movie, “Sobibor” generally treads lightly through a political minefield.

Surprisingly, perhaps, the film devotes very little attention to how Sobibor had Ukrainian guards or to the fact that many of the escapees were betrayed by Poles — aspects of the story that would mesh comfortably with the Kremlin’s campaign of vilification against those nations, where anti-Russian sentiment is rife.

In recent months, Poland and the Netherlands have worked to exclude Russia from a committee planning a new museum on the Sobibor grounds, prompting protests by Israel.

“Fortunately, the film doesn’t deal with these politicized issues,” Edelstein said. “Nor should it. The story of Sobibor is not only a Jewish story, but also a story about the best and the worst of us as human beings. Its message needs to be universal.”


Remembering the Holocaust: Albany interfaith project to create outdoor memorial

After extensive work restoring Jewish cemeteries around Europe and his father’s hometown in Belarus, Dr. Michael Lozman sets his sights on the US

Dr. Michael Lozman, left, with Bishop Edward Scharfenberger go over plans for the memorial. (Courtesy)

ALBANY, New York (New Jersey Jewish Standard) — Perhaps because he has spent so many years working to restore abandoned Jewish cemeteries in Eastern Europe, Michael Lozman of Albany, New York, has come to believe that the lessons of the Holocaust must be disseminated as widely as possible.

And perhaps because the many years he has spent doing this work have given him the credibility to be an advocate for a Holocaust memorial, Lozman now is actively engaged in that work.

“It all comes together,” said Lozman. “I spent the past 16 years restoring cemeteries in Eastern Europe” bringing students there to stay with village families and learn more about the Shoah.

“When I came back home, I realized that this was a project I wanted to do. Albany does not have an appropriate Holocaust memorial,” he said.

Lozman, an orthodontist whose father came from a small village in Belarus and later emigrated to the United States, said his interest in restoring cemeteries began when he visited his father’s hometown and saw the deplorable condition of the cemeteries.

With the Jews killed and most synagogues burned, without an effort to fence in and restore the cemeteries, “there would be no physical evidence that the Jews were there,” Lozman said. “This is a way to preserve Jewish history.”

His proposed outdoor memorial here in the United States has the added benefit of being an interfaith project.

A mock up of the proposed memorial. (Courtesy)

“I approached Bishop Edward Scharfenberger, the bishop of our area, last summer and suggested this as an interfaith project that speaks against hatred and teaches what bigotry and prejudice can lead to if left to grow,” said Lozman.

Scharfenberger heads the Roman Catholic Diocese of Albany.

“I also noted that Albany should have an appropriate Holocaust memorial. He totally agreed and was very excited about it,” Lozman said.

Not only was the bishop receptive, he also offered to provide a newly acquired piece of church property next to the Catholic cemetery.

“Since it had not yet been consecrated, he could deed this to our foundation,” said Lozman, who registered the project several years ago so that contributions could be made tax deductible.

“Essentially, I wanted a memorial that would be educational in design and give the viewers a sense of what cruelty the Jews were subjected to,”  Lozman said.

“It has been estimated that 4 million Jews were transported by rail, stuffed into boxcars, and sent to the gas chambers,” he continued.

“I wanted a railroad boxcar, railroad tracks, a large wall that represented the gas chamber, all enclosed by a wire fence, so that, similar to visiting the Vietnam Memorial, one would be drawn into the memorial, to be changed by the hard truth of what they are seeing. It is not designed to be shocking, but by symbolism, to portray a shocking history,” Lozman said.

The proposed memorial will be in Niskayuna, New York, a suburb that is both close to Albany and on a major highway. The memorial will be buffered by trees and have its own entrance onto the highway. According to Lozman, the Niskayuna planning board has given its unanimous approval. He now is waiting for the town board to approve the project as well.

“Niskayuna is an excellent location,” said Lozman. “The town has a great school system, high employment, and is a model community. In years to come, this memorial will become an important landmark that the community will be proud of because it will be an expression of people caring enough to help educate against hatred and express hope for a better tomorrow. “

Lozman noted that this might be the first time in the United States that a Catholic diocese has joined with the Jewish community to develop a Holocaust memorial.

“It’s an extremely important step forward,” he said. “It shows a great deal of sensitivity to the effects of the Holocaust. The bishop is to be commended for his willingness and enthusiasm.”

Michael Lozman initiated the creation of a memorial in Grozovo, Belarus, to Jews massacred during the Holocaust. (Courtesy of Michael Lozman)

While, inevitably, there has been some pushback against the project, “most people overwhelmingly see the bigger, long-term picture,” Lozman said.

“This is educational, so that when one goes there, they have the sense, the feeling, of what the Jews went through. We are going to have kiosks along the pathway with signage explaining the symbolism of the items used in the memorial. It will also provide a historical perspective of what the Holocaust was all about and information on how many others were killed in the Shoah as well,” he said.

The boxcar will be closed to the public. “It’s enough to see it,” said Lozman. The names of survivors who live in surrounding communities will be behind the wall representing the gas chamber.

Handprints of their children will be next to it. Lozman is not concerned about the difficulty of locating these families — he is confident that they will reach out when they hear of the project. There also will be benches where visitors can sit to meditate and pray.

Lozman said he anticipates that students who visit the memorial will have learned about the Holocaust in their schools, and that teachers will accompany them to the site to offer further instruction. He hopes that school buses will make their first stop at the Jewish Federation building, where they will receive additional information about the Shoah.

Lozman has worked hard to spread his message, but, he said, “If there was no Holocaust, none of this work would be necessary. I’m doing it for the victims of the Holocaust. What else can you do for them? They deserve to have their family cemeteries preserved and their family names preserved.

“It’s for the victims, but it’s also preserving our Jewish heritage,” Lozman said.



Trump signs Holocaust property law that has angered Poland

Justice for Uncompensated Survivors Today Act requires State Department to report on steps some European countries are taking to compensate WWII victims and their heirs

US President Donald Trump during an event in the East Room of the White House in Washington, DC, May 9, 2018. (SAUL LOEB/AFP)

WARSAW, Poland — US President Donald Trump has signed an act that Jewish groups praise as helpful in their efforts to reclaim lost property in Poland, but which the Polish government says is discriminatory.

The White House said on Wednesday that Trump signed the Justice for Uncompensated Survivors Today — or JUST — Act. It requires the State Department to report to Congress on what steps dozens of countries in Europe have taken to compensate Holocaust survivors or their heirs for assets seized under Nazi German and Communist rule.

The law does not give the US any powers to act against any country and does not single out Poland. But Poland is the only country in Europe that has not passed legislation to compensate former owners for assets seized in the upheavals of 20th-century European history, and Warsaw sees itself as the key target of the law.

The Nazis’ seizure of Jewish-owned property in Poland during World War II, and the murder of most of Poland’s Jewish population, was followed after the war by the Communist state’s seizure of large amounts of property that was nationalized.

Most of the original owners of that property were not Jewish.

Since the fall of communism, some claimants have regained lost property on a case-by-case basis through courts, but so far Poland has not passed comprehensive legislation regulating the process, creating a situation that has been riddled by fraud and led to a sense of injustice.

Head of the paintings department at the Louvre museum, Sebastien Allard, poses next to paintings looted by Nazis during World War II, at the Louvre museum, in Paris, January 30, 2018. (AP Photo/Christophe Ena)

Polish Foreign Minister Jacek Czaputowicz says he believes that the US pressure through the JUST Act unfairly sets Jewish claimants above non-Jewish ones, creating tensions within Polish society.

He argued that Polish law treats all Polish citizens equally, whether they are from the Polish majority or from ethnic minorities that made up significant segments of prewar society — including Jews and Ukrainians.

“This position of the (US) Congress is not good because it wants some privileges for the Jews, for the Jewish community, but not for the Poles. I think that the Poles who live in the US may feel hurt by that,” Czaputowicz said in an interview with The Associated Press last week.

He recalled that there were non-Jewish Poles who fought against Nazi Germany and then settled in the United States, leaving behind property that was seized by the Communist regime.

“Their property here remains without any settlement, and nobody speaks on their behalf, only on the behalf of the Jews. That is not good because that divides our society,” Czaputowicz added.

Polish organizations have also lobbied Congress members in past months asking them to oppose the act, efforts that included a mass letter-writing campaign.

The World Jewish Restitution Organization said Thursday that it was grateful to Congress for passing the act unanimously, and to Trump for signing it. “This is a powerful statement of America’s unwavering commitment to supporting Holocaust survivors in their quest for justice,” said Gideon Taylor, WJRO chair of operations.


Blood and mud poured on Netherlands Holocaust monument

Memorial to more than 1,200 Jews deported to their deaths from Utrecht defaced day after Memorial Day

Monument for 1239 Jewish victims from Utrecht. (CC BY-SA Kattiel, Wikimedia Commons)

AMSTERDAM — Unidentified individuals poured blood and mud on a Holocaust monument in the Netherlands shortly after the country’s national day of mourning for its war victims.

The blood was discovered shortly after the May 4 Memorial Day on the monument in Utrecht, 30 kilometers (20 miles) east of Amsterdam. It features the names of more than 1,200 Jews deported to their deaths from the city, RTV Utrecht reported Wednesday. The report did not specify the source of the blood.

Police said they do not yet know how the blood got on the monument or whether the people who put it there targeted a Jewish symbol.

The Dutch Railway Museum in Utrecht in 2013 had opposed plans to erect the monument near its entrance.

The museum is built on an old train station from which the Jews were deported.


How comic books taught American kids about the Holocaust

The authors of a new book say a surprising number of mainstream comics addressed the genocide during the ’50s and ’60s, when it was not often being taught in schools

‘We Spoke Out: Comic Books and the Holocaust’ features 18 comics that dealt with the Holocaust. (IDW Publishing/Yoe Books, JTA Collage)

NEW YORK (JTA) — In 2008, famed comic book artist Neal Adams and Holocaust historian Rafael Medoff teamed up to create a comic about Dina Babbitt, a Czech Jewish artist forced by the infamous Dr. Josef Mengele to paint watercolors of Roma prisoners in Auschwitz. They hoped to bring attention to a little-known figure in the Holocaust.

But their work on the comic, published by Marvel, also led them to ponder a larger issue: the surprising degree to which comic books had addressed the genocide in Europe.

“We were surprised and impressed to discover that a number of mainstream comic books had taken on Holocaust-related themes in their story lines at various points over the years,” Medoff, the founding director of the David Wyman Institute for Holocaust Studies, told JTA in a phone interview last month.

Medoff and Adams — known for his iconic work on DC Comics’ Batman and Green Arrow — decided to explore how a genre aimed at entertaining youths tackled one of history’s darkest chapters.

The results of the research is their new book, “We Spoke Out: Comic Books and the Holocaust,” which was published last month and co-written with author and artist Craig Yoe.

In the decades immediately following World War II, many high school students did not learn about the Holocaust, and TV programs, movies, and books only addressed it sporadically, Medoff told JTA.

“It struck us that comic books apparently were one of the ways in which American teenagers were learning about the Holocaust at a time when most of them were not learning about it in school,” he said.

Adams, who designed the book’s cover image, created three of the comics reproduced in full in the book: “Night of the Reaper,” a 1971 comic featuring Batman and Robin and a Holocaust survivor bent on revenge; “Thou Shalt Not Kill!,” a 1972 comic about a golem that kills Nazis in Prague; and “The Last Outrage,” the 2008 comic he created with Medoff about Babbitt’s life.

The book also features three works by the late Jewish comic book icon Joe Kubert, the Polish-born pioneer at DC Comics who founded The Kubert School for budding comics artists.

Captain America, a superhero who fought the Nazis in a comic book series that began in 1940, is featured in a 1979 comic about a Holocaust survivor’s experiences at a fictionalized concentration camp. Notably, it was the first time in the character’s long run that the persecution of the Jews was mentioned.

Many of the 18 comics in the book feature Holocaust survivors seeking vengeance against Nazis, and some present superheroes. Jews wrote about or drew half the comics.

Adams, 76, said comics provide a way to present the horror of the Holocaust in a way that people can “endure it.” As a 10-year-old living in West Germany, where his father was stationed with the US Army, he was shown three hours of footage of concentration camps being liberated. He was so traumatized by what he saw that he did not speak for a week afterward.

“You’re just seeing it over and over again, the devastation, people living in their own filth, and after a while you just can’t,” he said of the experience. “The idea of this [book] was to take this down to smaller chunks so that people could endure it.”

Yoe said comics also allow readers to take time to think about what they are learning.

“One of the advantages to comics over movies and TV is that you can read at your own pace, especially important stories like these,” he said. “You can stop and ponder a particular panel, or go back and look at the other thing.”

Comics have taken on other weighty issues, including racism, drug abuse, and the environment, but such story lines are the exception.

“Most comic book stories of course are just about superheroes chasing supervillains, but there have been many important exceptions to that,” Medoff said.

The authors note several distinct ways the Holocaust was depicted at various times. In the 1950s and early ’60s, comics tended to portray the Holocaust in general terms, without references to Jews as the victims.

“It seemed to me as a historian that this reflected the general mindset in American society at that time, in the ’50s and early ’60s, which was to play down ethnic differences and to universalize the Holocaust as if it was something that kind of happened to everybody,” Medoff said.

Magneto, an X-Men villain created by Stan Lee, was born Max Eisenhardt and has a backstory that includes surviving internment at Auschwitz. (Flickr/ Gord Fynes)

In the following decades, he said, writers were more likely to explicitly identify Holocaust victims as Jewish.

Medoff believes the book can be a useful teaching aid in educating about the Holocaust.

“Unfortunately, classroom Holocaust education has not been as effective as we hoped it would be,” he said, citing a recent survey that found that many US millennials lacked basic knowledge about the Holocaust. “[C]omic book stories offer a way to communicate these history lessons to students that might be more effective than some of the ways that have been used until now.”

Adams said that need is especially urgent today.

“Anyone who’s even paying attention to modern politics ought to be warned that if you do not study history, you’re doomed to repeat it,” he said. “We’re on the crux of some very difficult times, and a book like this is a good reminder.”


It’s not just Abbas: Blaming Jews for the Holocaust is widespread

Discredited theories about the genocide are common in Europe and among Palestinians, who have used them as an ideological weapon against Israel


Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas gestures during a Palestinian National Council meeting in Ramallah, April 30, 2018. (ABBAS MOMANI/AFP)

JTA — Even reliable supporters condemned Mahmoud Abbas when he blamed the Holocaust on the Jews’ own behavior.

That claim and others made during the Palestinian leader’s lengthy address Monday in Ramallah triggered the harshest wave of censures ever directed at him in the West.

Israel, the United States and a United Nations official used some of the strongest terms in the diplomatic vocabulary to denounce Abbas. The New York Times editorial board called for him to step down, and even the main Palestinian rights advocacy group in Germany criticized the speech and labeled it anti-Semitic.

Faced with a tsunami of condemnations, Abbas apologized in a statement Friday in which he called the genocide against the Jews “the most heinous crime in history.” It was a familiar pattern for someone who for decades has alternated between recognition and denial of the Holocaust.

But if the reaction to Abbas’s speech was unusual, his discredited theories about the Holocaust are not — not among Palestinians, who have used them as an ideological weapon against Israel, and not in Europe, where they are proliferating for different reasons.

European Jews, Abbas said in Ramallah, had been “subjected to a massacre every 10 to 15 years, since the 11th century and until the Holocaust in Germany.” The Palestinian Authority president went on to say that the Soviet despot Joseph Stalin, who was not Jewish, was in fact a Jew and that Stalin and other Jews had said that “this anti-Jewish [sentiment] was not because of their religion, but because of their function in society, which had to do with usury, banks and so on.”

Abbas, 82, then corrected himself and said he had meant to quote Karl Marx, not Stalin.

This trope that Jews brought genocide on themselves by controlling the levers of financial power is rooted in European classical anti-Semitism as expressed in the Russian forgery “Protocols of the Elders of Zion,” according to Esther Webman, a senior scholar at the Moshe Dayan Center for Middle Eastern and African Studies in Tel Aviv. Her field of expertise is Arab anti-Semitism and perceptions of the Holocaust.

“In Arab discourse, these anti-Semitic teachings are weaponization to foment hatred of Israel,” she said.

For various reasons, such theories are particularly prevalent in Eastern European countries whose populations were widely complicit in the Holocaust, according to Holocaust historian Efraim Zuroff, the Eastern Europe director for the Simon Wiesenthal Center.

“A very strong element of Holocaust distortion in the region is to justify complicity in the Holocaust by framing it as a payback for the actions of Jews,” he said, referencing the outsize support by Jews for communism, which Russia imposed on the region with ruthless oppression.

Zsolt Bayer, a co-founder of Hungary’s ruling Fidesz party, wrote an op-ed in 2016 in which he justified Eastern European Holocaust collaboration as payback for the actions of communists.

“Why do we find it shocking that 20 years later he watched without pity as the gendarmes dragged the Jews away from his village?” Bayer said of the average villager in Hungary.

But in Abbas’s case, his Ramallah speech was merely the latest of a series of statements that he has made since the 1980s that have been widely considered anti-Semitic.

In the introduction to his 1984 book titled “The Other Aspect: The Secret Ties Between the Nazis and the Leadership of the Zionist Movement,” Abbas wrote about the figure of 6 million Jews killed in the Holocaust: “In truth, no one can refute or confirm this number. In other words, the number of Jewish victims could be 6 million and could be much smaller — even less than 1 million.”

In the book, he also quoted the French-British Holocaust denier Robert Faurisson’s discredited claim that the Nazis used gas chambers only for disease control rather than to murder Jews.

But since climbing up the ranks of the PLO, Abbas has largely stayed off the topic of the Holocaust, according to Webman.

“This is an unusual return for him,” she said of Monday’s speech.

Abbas’s journey from denial to justification represents an evolution in how Palestinian society as a whole has treated the Holocaust since the 1990s, according to Itamar Marcus, founder of Palestinian Media Watch in Jerusalem, which monitors Arab outlets.

From outright denial in 1991, the press in the West Bank and Gaza have shifted to blaming Zionist activists for alleged complicity in the Holocaust, citing and exaggerating agreements made by Zionist activists with Nazi officials in the early 1930s that facilitated German Jewish immigration to prestate Israel.

Abbas repeated that claim in his remarks, depicting what Zionists viewed as a desperate rescue mission as proof that Zionism was a Nazi-backed enterprise.

Amid international pressure over this distortion, Marcus said, the state-controlled Palestinian media in the 2000s began showing signs of recognition for the Holocaust. But that gradually gave way to drawing comparisons between Israel and Nazi Germany, including by Abbas.

“In recent years, we’re seeing a fifth stage: justification for the Holocaust becoming a main narrative,” Marcus said.

He cited an article from 2011 in the Zayzafuna youth magazine of Abbas’s PLO, whose author, a 10th-grader, imagined having a conversation with Adolf Hitler. She asks the Fuehrer if he’s the “one who killed the Jews.” Hitler replies: “Yes. I killed them so you would all know that they are a nation which spreads destruction all over the world.”

Denial, distortion and justification of the Holocaust serve a clear political purpose in the Arab world, according to Webman.

“In the Arab view, the State of Israel was created because of the Holocaust. So to undermine the Holocaust is to undermine the moral grounds for Israel’s creation,” she said.

If the Jews brought the Holocaust on themselves, the reasoning goes, then there is no moral grounds for compensating them with a national home in what the PLO considers Palestine.

This ignores not just a Nazi obsession with Jews that did not discriminate by occupation, nationality, age or gender, but also the legitimacy of a Jewish project of self-rule in their historic homeland that predated and was well underway before the Holocaust.

“But this is not accepted in the Arab worldview,” she said.

Claiming that Zionists were complicit in the Holocaust – a trope that is gaining traction among supporters of the far left in Britain – also feeds the notion that the West is to blame for giving Palestine to the Jews, Webman said.

In the Arab world, Holocaust distortion is part of a broader effort to deny ties between the Jewish people and Israel, Webman said. And on that front, she added, “Abbas is a prominent voice, it’s a big part of his legacy.”

This effort by Abbas included promoting at UNESCO several resolutions since 2015 that deny or ignore Jewish historical ties to Jerusalem. And it also featured prominently in his Ramallah speech, although this element was eclipsed by his apparent justification of the Holocaust.

On Monday, quoting a widely discredited theory about the mass conversion to Judaism of the Turkic nation of the Khazars in the ninth century, Abbas said about Ashkenazi Jews, “They are not Semites and have no connection to Semites, neither to Abraham nor to Jacob.”


Sleuths probing betrayal of Anne Frank snag a book deal

HarperCollins buys rights to story of investigative team looking into decades-long mystery over how the Jewish family’s attic hideout in Amsterdam was discovered in 1944

Anne Frank, aged 12, at her school desk in Amsterdam, 1941. (Courtesy, Beyond the Story)

NEW YORK — An investigative team looking into who betrayed Anne Frank and her family has a book deal.

“Anne Frank: A Cold Case Diary” will be published in the summer of 2020, HarperCollins Publishers told The Associated Press on Thursday. The book was among the most talked about at last month’s London Book Fair.

Former FBI agent Vincent Pankoke has been leading an international effort to solve the decades-long mystery over how the Jewish family’s attic hideout in Amsterdam was discovered in 1944.

Anne Frank was sent to a concentration camp and died the following year. Her father Otto Frank later found her diary, which has sold millions of copies.

The publisher acquired world rights to the book.

View of the Anne Frank house in Amsterdam, Holland, where Anne and her family hid in a ‘Secret Annex’ during the Holocaust. (Nati Shohat/Flash90)